This week’s Gospel reading at church was a challenging one. But, if you read it and pay attention, you will understand the meaning of life. In it, a man asks Jesus what he can do to have eternal life. Jesus mentions all the normal things that make us decent human beings, but then goes on to tell him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and to follow him. He then tells his disciples that “t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This concerns the disciples (and the modern reader) because that makes it seem like nobody can be saved. Jesus replies, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
This passage made me think about a lot of things. The first is the obvious idea that of all the things Jesus tells the rich man to do, the most important is to follow him. I imagine that if the man gave away all his things, but didn’t follow Jesus, he probably missed the point. On the other hand, I imagine that if the man didn’t give away all his possessions, but did follow Jesus, he would have been okay.
I’m not one for a literal biblical reading. I find more power in the messages, the allegory, the ideas.
When I read this passage, I know that I am not being asked to give away all my possessions, I am being asked to do good, be good, and follow the right path. He is not making a blanket statement about living a life of poverty, this isn’t one of the commandments. As our priest said in his sermon following this passage, “In fact, when Jesus makes universal injunctions, it tends to be the big picture, harder to quantify stuff, like love God, love your neighbor, proclaim the Gospel, follow him.”
Fr. Bingham’s sermon about this passage was quite wonderful. As another parishioner said to him after the service, “That was one of the best stewardship sermons I’ve ever heard.” I agree. I have to admit that when this time of year rolls around, the time of year when the sermons focus on giving (as their annual stewardship campaign), I tend to space out, to not pay attention. I know that we will give money, I understand the importance of this. I feel like these sermons aren’t for me.
Yesterday, though, the sermon was for me. Not only did it answer all my questions about eternal life (I’m being a bit facetious here), but it also connected to my desire to downsize, throw out things, and only keep things that spark joy. This is totally connected to the Kon-Mari method- in fact, Bingham gave me a heads up that his sermon touched on Kon-Mari before church.
The bit of Bingham’s sermon about possessions really spoke to me. If we were at a different kind of church, I would have been standing in the back, saying “Amen!” and lifting my hands up:
In this passage, Jesus is trying to open their eyes to their unhealthy relationship to possessions and how that gets in the way of living their life in the kingdom of God. And I think if we are honest with ourselves, many of us here, maybe most of us, certainly myself, and certainly our culture at large, have an unhealthy relationship to our possessions. It is so unhealthy, that I wonder if we could even do what Jesus asks this man, not because it is too hard, but because we don’t own possessions anymore. They own us. We have imbued our possessions with a mystical quality, an almost salvific quality. And so Jesus says that if we want to truly find salvation, we have to correct our relationship to our possessions by rejecting the idea that our possessions bring us salvation, and realize that our salvation is in God alone. We have to reject the idea that our possessions bring us security, and realize that our true security is in God alone. We have to reject the idea that our possessions bring us life, and realize that our true life is in God alone.
Our unhealthy relationship with possessions. This is such a big deal in our culture right now. I see it, I feel it. It’s something we all deal with. We all want the better phone, the bigger house, the fastest car. That’s okay, but it really shouldn’t be our focus.
As I’ve written before, I’m new to the whole analyzing scripture (and sharing my thoughts publicly), but I just felt inspired to write about this. What’s your take on this passage?